Director's Note: Proposed Project Looms Over Museum

Submitted by Bruce Barnes,

George Eastman House faces a serious threat to our immediate surroundings, which play an essential role in preserving Mr. Eastman’s estate and the experience of those visiting our landmark property.

The Monroe Voiture (40 & 8 Club), a veteran’s club, has entered into an agreement to transfer its property at 933 University Avenue—immediately east of our property—to Morgan Management, which submitted to the Rochester Preservation Board a proposal to demolish the clubhouse and build a 110-unit, 174,000-square-foot apartment building. Morgan Management’s obligation to purchase the property is contingent on approval of the project by the Preservation Board and Planning Commission.

The proposal called for the four-story building to be set back only 20 feet from the property’s perimeter and for removal of almost all of the existing trees (see aerial photo, right). Such a structure would have a dramatically adverse impact on the viewshed and surroundings of the Eastman House property.

The first line of defense against the project is the Preservation Board. The East Avenue Preservation District (Rochester’s first) was created in 1969, and the Board has diligently protected its character. Since what became the Strathallan Hotel was built in 1975, the Board has not permitted construction of any residential building taller than two stories. Over the same period, a total of fewer than 100 residential units have been constructed in the District.

Given that history, it may seem obvious that the Board would not permit a massive, four-story apartment building—with more residential units than have been added in the last 35 years—to be built within the District. It is especially important that such a structure not be built adjacent to George Eastman House, one of only two National Historic Landmarks in Rochester.

Nevertheless, the Preservation Board faces (implicit or explicit) pressure to approve projects that will generate tax revenue. At the Board’s hearing on January 2, its members focused more on the proposed building’s details (e.g., its vinyl siding) than on whether the project is fundamentally inappropriate for its proposed location. One city employee, who has been advocating the project, emailed a neighborhood leader: “We think this is a good project and that it would be a boost for the neighborhood . . .”

Unsurprisingly, neighborhood residents do not agree. At one meeting hosted by Eastman House and another hosted by Morgan Management, community members were overwhelmingly opposed to the project. Beyond their strong objections to the building’s scale and design, neighborhood residents foresee many problems, including loss of open space, increased traffic on University Avenue, and insufficient parking for apartment residents and their guests.

We must not be complacent. The City is currently conducting the required environmental quality review process. This period provides an opportunity for concerned individuals such as you to express your views on the project.

I urge you to reach out to the Preservation Board and to elected and appointed officials of the City of Rochester to express your opposition to this proposed apartment building.

To learn how you can help us oppose this project that threatens the integrity of George Eastman House and the surrounding East Avenue Preservation District, visit eastmanhouse. com/933university.

Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
March/April 2013 Bulletin

Tuesday, July 5, 2016